April 4, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of Illinois. No. 14-cr-40050 - Sara Darrow, Judge.
WOOD, Chief Judge, and Kanne and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.
convicted Steven Waldrip of distributing heroin under the
Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).
Because death resulted from the use of that heroin, Waldrip
faced a twenty-year mandatory-minimum sentence. §
841(b)(1)(C). The district court sentenced him to 280 months.
On appeal, Waldrip argues that the government provided
insufficient evidence to prove that the heroin was a but-for
cause of the victim's death, that § 841(b)(1)(C) is
unconstitutionally vague, and that his 280-month sentence
violates the Eighth Amendment's proportionality
requirement. We reject those claims.
case concerns a drug deal between Waldrip and Kathi Sweeney
and Kyle Wilson. Sweeney and Wilson's relationship had an
inauspicious beginning: they met at a rehab facility in Rock
Island, Illinois, where each was receiving treatment-Sweeney
for alcoholism and Wilson for heroin addiction. Wilson's
stay was short lived. After just three days, he decided that
the treatment was ineffective and left. But before he left,
Sweeney agreed to take him to a different facility once she
left the one in Rock Island.
she had completed her treatment, Sweeney picked Wilson up at
a bus stop, intending to take him to another rehab facility.
Wilson testified that Sweeney was "highly
intoxicated" and that she asked him if he "wanted
to get high one more time" before going back to rehab.
(R. 60 at 57.) Wilson said yes and began calling known
dealers. After unsuccessfully reaching out to several others,
Wilson called Waldrip, his go-to guy for heroin over the
reaching Waldrip, Sweeney and Wilson drove to Waldrip's
house. Waldrip got into Sweeney's car and gave Sweeney
directions to another location. There, Sweeney and Wilson
gave Waldrip forty dollars for two bags of heroin- each
containing one-tenth of a gram. Waldrip left and returned
about an hour later with the heroin. Afterwards, Sweeney and
Wilson took Waldrip back to his house.
then drove Wilson to a local CVS, where she purchased the
necessary supplies for injecting heroin. In the parking lot,
Wilson injected himself and Sweeney.
reacted to the heroin almost immediately, locking up and
passing out. After initially panicking and leaving, Wilson
returned to the car and started to take Sweeney to a
hospital. But on the way, Sweeney woke up and told him to
take her home. There, Wilson put a bag of frozen peas on
Sweeney's chest while she lay on her couch-an apparent
attempt at preventing Sweeney from dying. Wilson stayed at
Sweeney's house that night.
next morning, Wilson woke up suffering from withdrawal
symptoms. Wilson needed heroin but lacked money, so he stole
some of Sweeney's belongings to pawn for cash. He then
left Sweeney's house for good. Later that day,
Sweeney's sister found Sweeney dead on the couch.
claimed that Sweeney was alive when he left her house and
that he did not know Sweeney was dead until the next day when
a detective stopped him and started questioning him.
Additional investigation led detectives to Waldrip. Several
weeks later, in return for a reduced sentence, Wilson agreed
to testify that Waldrip sold Sweeney and Wilson the heroin.
Officers arrested Waldrip after an undercover DEA agent
bought heroin from Waldrip three separate times. The
government charged Waldrip with one count of distributing
heroin to Sweeney and Wilson and three counts of distributing
heroin to the undercover agent. § 841(a)(1). Because
Sweeney died from using the heroin that Waldrip sold, the
government sought an enhanced sentence under §
841(b)(1)(C) for count one. Waldrip pled guilty to the last
three counts but went to trial on the first.
trial, Waldrip agreed to stipulate that two government
experts-one a pathologist and the other a forensic
toxicologist-would testify that, but for her use of heroin
right before her death, Sweeney would not have died. Both